Bob Kerrey, DINO?

Our political scene has changed drastically since Bob Kerrey was last in the Senate.

Politico’s David Catanese reflects on how much our political scene has changed since Bob Kerrey was last in the Senate.

Bob Kerrey took a lonely position against banning gay marriage in the 1990s. He opposed a ban on flag desecration, voted against welfare reform and ran up high Americans for Democratic Action scores while serving as the senator from one of the most conservative states in the nation. But when he announced his plans to run for his old Senate seat earlier this week, it was greeted with boos, hisses and expletives from the left.

Welcome back to Washington, senator.

While the Democratic establishment in D.C. is thrilled by his prospective return — the former two-term senator, after all, gives the party a shot at winning a Nebraska seat that was considered all but lost to the party — progressives responded to the news by sharpening their knives.

In the liberal blogosphere, the most energetic quarter of the party, Kerrey’s comeback bid was lambasted as the return of yet another mushy moderate. The online left says it won’t lift a finger for him — and in some cases, it’s even rooting against Kerrey.

It’s a reaction that’s emblematic of the new normal in Washington, a place where there’s no room for committed centrists like Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe, who announced Tuesday she’ll retire after three terms — and perhaps even for members with a record of orbiting the center, such as Kerrey.

“I hope he gets carpet bombed. The more Republicans spend in Nebraska, the less they’ll have to go after Democratic Senate candidates who actually act like Democrats,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the influential blog Daily Kos. “And if it turns out he needs the help, then too bad. F—- him.”

The political world Kerrey is returning to after a decade out of politics looks nothing like the one he left in 2001, when he declined to run for a third term. For starters, there was no such thing as Daily Kos back then. Howard Dean was still a largely unknown Vermont governor. George W. Bush was beginning his first term as president. Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator.

At the time Kerrey stepped down, his frankness and willingness to buck both his party and his conservative constituents was much lauded. Now, upon his return to the political arena, the man who once led the party’s efforts to elect Democratic senators is viewed in some quarters as something close to an apostate for his habit of questioning entitlements, his support for the invasion of Iraq and other departures from party orthodoxy.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a leading booster of liberal candidates and causes, waited just two hours after Kerrey’s announcement this week before slicing up his record and seeking to advance the interests of his nominal primary opponent. “Before leaving Nebraska, Bob Kerrey voted to deregulate Wall Street, voted for NAFTA, and voted for the Iraq war. Since leaving Nebraska, he’s supported cutting Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age, and lowering corporate tax rates. Kerrey will clearly not be a priority for those looking to support populist candidates in 2012 — and Chuck Hassebrook will likely get a lot of attention,” said PCCC co-founder Adam Green.

Democracy for America, Howard Dean’s Vermont-based political action committee, also indicated that Kerrey can’t count on their blessing in his attempt to replace conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who is retiring. “We aren’t looking for anyone to replicate Ben Nelson in Nebraska,” said DFA spokeswoman Levana Layendecker. “We’re not interested in supporting Democrats who we can’t count on to support us on the issues we care about like health care and protecting Social Security.”

Moulitsas explained the view of Kerrey from the Netroots perspective: the ex-senator is a Democrat in the mold of Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut centrist who is loathed by online progressives. ”Bob Kerrey equals Joe Lieberman in our minds,” he said. “I can pretty much guarantee that Kerrey won’t get any significant small dollar money outside of Nebraska.”

This is just insane. And the Democrats are reasonable on this score compared to the Republicans, where the likes of Jon Huntsman–a popular two-term governor of the most conservative state in the Union–can be not only the most liberal candidate in a huge presidential field but widely excoriated at a Republican In Name Only.

I can at least understand the enmity against a Joe Lieberman or a pre-2008 John McCain, who seemed to go out of their way to go against their party on signature issues, reveling in the press attention it got them. But Kerrey was ahead of his own party on several key social issues. How anyone outside the radical fringe of the Democratic Party would view him as anything but a solid Democrat is beyond me.

While I’d obviously prefer a Republican equivalent–a Chuck Hagel type–win that seat, the country could do a hell of a lot worse than another term for Kerrey. As we’ve seen over the past several years, the Senate simply can’t function with nothing but radicals who vote in party line lockstep. The institution requires a critical mass of people of good will who will put the needs of the country above the needs of their party on critical issues.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Democracy, Political Theory, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    ” The institution requires a critical mass of people of good will who will put the needs of the country above the needs of their party on critical issues.”

    Amen. We can hope that we will once again have politicians who are willing work towards generating policy that is best for the country, instead of removing the other party. (I actually dont think that everyone in both parties is a radical now, but I think it has been made pretty clear that if you do not vote in lockstep, you will face a primary challenge.)


  2. michael reynolds says:

    Markos demonstrates his stupidity, as if we needed more proof. How does he think we move progressive legislation if we’re in the minority?

    I’ve always liked Bob Kerrey. First, I am constitutionally unable to feel anything but respect for a man with a Medal of Honor. Second, he’s always struck me as a decent man, smart, witty and unafraid. Comparing him to that self-inflating gasbag Lieberman is way off-base.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    I think there is another relationship with respect to a number of politicians listed here, to which I might add Sen. Lugar and Sen. Kirk — they appear more interested in foreign policy, and tend to be seen by their constituents as less interested in domestic issues and more malleable on domestic policies.

    (Huntsman was never going to nominated after being in the opposing party; today, tomorrow or a hundred years ago, so that says nothing one way or the other about today’s politics)

  4. PD Shaw says:

    opposing party = opposing administration

  5. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Markos knows that demographics is on the side of the progressives along with $3.5+ dollars of government funds to pass around. The last thing most progressive activist want is a bigger private sector and more middle class people working in the private sector.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    How about you try an experiment. See if you can post a comment that isn’t just a transparent attempt to get onto your racist obsessions. Think you can do that/? We’d all be grateful, because as it is you’ve gone from being a racist creep to being a crashingly BORING racist creep.

  7. steve says:

    ” $3.5+ dollars of government funds to pass around.”

    Most of that is going to old people and defense spending, the GOP constituency.

  8. Peacewood says:

    Yeah, I can’t jibe with the extreme left here. At all.

    In case Markos and his ilk have forgotten, ACA doesn’t get passed without the support of Blue Dogs. When it comes to the prime pieces of legislation, the Ben Nelsons of the world are indispensable.

  9. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    At the risk of bursting bubbles, Chief, and FYI, the party of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Durbin, Hoyer and Wasserman-Schultz, not to mention Rahm Emanuel, Van Jones, Steven Chu and Elizabeth Warren, is not more “reasonable” than anything under the Sun, even using a parallel universe definition of “reasonable.” Ergo it’s not at all surprising that a Medal of Honor recipient and left-of-center but not stark raving mad former Senator is being greeted by shrill catcalls from the new-age Democrat Party apparatchiks. Goes with the territory.

    Regarding the Senate itself, the problem is not so much that nearly all current members vote in lock-step with party leadership. The problem is that there still are far too many Democrats in the chamber. If McConnell had 60 votes you’d be surprised how well it would function.

    As far as Kerrey’s candidacy goes, certainly the world wouldn’t end if he won that seat. Ben Nelson wasn’t exactly the picture of moderation to begin with. Despite the hype to the contrary Nelson almost always toed the left-wing line on major items. Granted, it took the bribery of exempting Nebraska from its mandate, but Nelson ultimately voted for Obamacare, which nearly is as popular in Nebraska as the Oklahoma Sooners.

    Kerrey vs. Nelson probably would be tantamount to six vs. half-a-dozen. I suspect, however, this ultimately will be a moot point. Sharing a ticket with Obama in Nebraska in 2012 probably would be too difficult for any Democrat to overcome. But time will tell for certain.

  10. Herb says:

    @michael reynolds: Even without the racism, SD’s analysis is going to need some work.

    Did you know that you don’t want more middle class people working in the private sector? I mean, such a penetrating gaze….to see right into us like that. Dude, we were trying to keep that secret.

  11. anjin-san says:

    This Democrat would be happy to see Kerry return to the Senate. He is smart, he works hard, he seems to be a good guy, and he has put his ass on the line for his country. I see no similarity between him and a worm like Lieberman.

    Insistence on ideological purity smells just as bad on the left as it does on the right. The Kos crew is way off base here, and I am reminded of why I almost never venture over there.

  12. Neil Hudelson says:


    I was just wondering who let SD see our secret progressive listserv devoted to destroying the middle class. He knows too much!

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:


    Any discussion concerning the future of the Democratic or the Republican Party has to start with a discussion of demographics. Markos knows that all of the demographic trends are moving in the Democratic Party’s way and thus, the Democratic Party is not really very motivated to appeal to moderate whites in Midwest and plains states.

    That is why elite progressives on the coasts, where they are few middle class whites, hate the idea of having a Democratic candidates that can actually appeal to the middle class white voters needed to win in Nebraska.

    However, in the long run, the moderate and conservative voters in Nebraska are just doing to have to face the prospects that the demographics trends are against them and soon the Democratic Party will feel free to ignore them.

  14. superdestroyer says:


    I have never seen that Defense spending helps the Republicans to create more voters. Every dollar that the government spends strengthens the Democrats.

    Think of the coming political fights on what the feds will insist that insurance cover. Such decisions will decide the fates of drug companies, medical manufacturers, and entire specialties in healthcare.

  15. superdestroyer says:


    Have you not paid attention to the push in Wisconsin to give political power back to the public sector unions. Have you not paid attention to cap and trade. Have you not paid to card check? Have you not paid attention to all of the talk of progressives wanting to lower the pay of healthcare workers?

    Progressives and the left have little interest in expanding the private sector because unless they depend upon government spending.

  16. Ben Wolf says:

    @superdestroyer: Pedantic babble, even for you. One note in every single comment you make. I don’t know what audience you think you’re influencing, but we’re bored.

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    Actually I’m going to extend my pledge of ignoring G.A. to include super. He discredits himself and doesn’t need any help.

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I guess when progressive do not want to think about the long term impacts of their policy positions, I guess claiming you are bored makes sense.

    Politics in the U.S. should be discussed from the POV that the U.S. will no have a conservative party in the future. What does that do to policy and governance and what do the people who hold conservative positions do when they no longer have any influence on politics.

    I would guess that middle class whites will just drop out of politics and leave it to the Markos of the world and that they will become insular while trying to isolate themselves from the government.

    Of course, the other argue could be that conservative will decide that if they cannot beat the big spending, big government progressives and just get involved in maximizing the amount of government goodies they get while minimizing the taxes paid.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    Blah blah blah. I’m with Ben Wolf. You just go on ignore from now on. Go talk to stormfront, I’m sure they’ll find you fascinating.

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:


    I have realize for some time that progressive operate from the position that if they do not like the data, then the data must be ignored. After you numerous posts, I guess all I can say is Q.E.D.

    But then again, I guess that when blogging goes past progressives good and smart/conservatives bad and stupid, then you do not care.

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    But when he announced his plans to run for his old Senate seat earlier this week, it was greeted with boos, hisses and expletives from the left.

    I don’t dispute there’s a loony left but it doesn’t call the shots in the Democratic party as does the loony right in the Republican party. Believe it or not Moulitsis doesn’t occupy the same position as El Rushbo. From everything I’ve read the Dems were doing high fives when Kerrey decided to throw his hat in the ring.

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Actually I’m going to extend my pledge of ignoring G.A. to include super. He discredits himself and doesn’t need any help.

    Absolutely, the more these loons are encouraged the worse they get. It’s almost as if they have some psychological need that has be assuaged by endlessly replaying drivel and a measured response just gives them a peg to hang it on. GA/SD should be anyone’s do not call list and there are couple of other close contenders.

  23. JohnMcC says:

    @superdestroyer: “…elite progressives on the coasts, where they (sic) are few middle class whites…” is a statement so encompassing of a profound ignorance and stupidity which I will not even attempt to refute it with statistics or actual — ahem – facts. Let me assure you that a trip through Alabama or Kansas followed by a trip through Maryland, Connecticutt or the SF Bay area would prove what a fool you are, sir.

  24. JohnMcC says:

    @JohnMcC: My reaction in the post above distracted me from saying something about coalitions of diverse opinions being an absolute necessity in a huge, populous and diverse country like we are fortunate to live in. Mr Kos is of course foolish and Dr Joyner is far wiser. The whole “both sides do it” is tiresome when used by the so-called-conservatives so it’s troubling when jerks on the left actually follow the script. Here’s hoping Mr Reid is returned as Leader and has a large and wide caucus.

  25. steve says:

    “I have never seen that Defense spending helps the Republicans to create more voters. ”

    Romney has vowed to not cut military spending. This is a core (excepting Paul) GOP principle.


  26. matt says:

    @JohnMcC: Facts don’t matter with SD. He’ll just pop up in another thread with the same stupid.

  27. KariQ says:

    I’ve been surprised by the animosity towards Kerrey. I think he would make a fine senator (as he did before) and I hope he wins.

  28. WR says:

    @anjin-san: I’m no fan of Kerrey. If he’s what it takes to keep the senate, then we need him. But when the right is waging a ferocious war to overturn the New Deal, it doesn’t help the left (or the American people) to have one more deficit peacock looking for ways to kill Social Security and Medicare. And his brief employment in the private sector at the New School was a disaster — not only was he incompetent as a manager, he was as anti-labor as any Republican.

    Is he the best we can do in Nebraska? Okay, fine. But the drumbeat of “any Democrat who doesn’t whole-heartedly embrace Kerrey is as bad as Republicans trying to enforce ideological purity” is just silly.

  29. MarkedMan says:

    Kerry may be to the right of me but always struck me as having actual integrity. Lieberman, well, my only regret in his retirement was that I had moved to CT and was looking forward to voting against him. My initial and lasting impression of Lieberman was during the VP debate and he looked at Cheney with such an obvious schoolgirl crush it made my stomach turn. Cheney teed up so many easy ones (“I made my money in the private sector”) and rather than hit them out of the park Lieberman acted chastened by the wise words from the important man. If he had a tail he would have wagged it and whimpered for attention. Sickening.

    My memories of Snowe was that she was always just about on board and would drag things out for weeks or months and help neuter the legislation but then always, always vote along with her Repub overlords. Nelson was the same, but worse because he was a Democrat and he voluntarily took the Repubs as his overlords.

    So I’m glad Kerry is running and hope we get the seat. Markos site is crazy town and I haven’t visited in years and don’t plan on anytime soon.

  30. Rob in CT says:


    Welcome to CT. I’m a registered Democrat today specifically because of Joe Lieberman. I wanted to fire him that badly. You know the story.

    Kerrey: I don’t really care much. If he wins (my understanding is that he’s an underdog in this race), it will be a marginal improvement of the Senate, IMO. The alternative to a “DINO” is a Republican, and today that’s almost always a poor trade.